There are two ways of looking at old age up close and unveiled in public. The more superficial passer-by focuses on the ravages of time, the faulty parts, the sagging appendages, the cracks and creaks and wrinkles. A more thoughtful observer glimpses hidden strength and beauty undefeated by the passage of decades, and understands what is weathered and worn can be sustained and rejuvenated with love and care.
With that in mind, I was one in a small crowd that gathered in the parking lot of the old Liberty Bar Wednesday morning to watch the team from Dodson House Moving prepare to gently ease the century-old Boehler House at 328 E. Josephine St. along a temporary foundation of heavy steel beams a short distance of 60 feet, leaving the original foundation exposed where it can be removed and replaced. The Pearl’s leadership team was on hand to watch what one called their collective “labor of love.”
Silver Ventures, the owner of the Pearl and now the Boehler House, is investing an extraordinary level of time, energy and resources in preserving the San Antonio landmark, yet a day hardly goes by without someone on Facebook or Twitter passing along the latest nefarious rumor about the ownership’s bad intentions. It’s strange to watch the project take shape, step by step, amid such unwarranted suspicion and distrust. Time will settle the matter in favor of the Pearl. When the edifice is returned to its new foundation it will sit back a few feet more from the street, making room for a sidewalk and perhaps a bike lane. Once the structure is settled, crews will go to work on a painstaking historic renovation that will return the Boehler House to its original turn-of-the-century condition.
First, however, the old house had to be moved. Crews had spent months preparing the structure to be elevated from its failing foundation, and that was accomplished on Nov. 19, with guy wires reinforcing internal walls and floors and heavy wood blocks and pneumatic jacks keeping the building stable as it was elevated 30? off the ground. Crews then left the house to “settle and recover” for 10 days, a sort of Thanksgiving respite, returning this week to finish the job. More reinforcement was added, inside and out, and then workers handed a remote control to the youngest member of the Silver Ventures team, and with the push of a toggle switch, steel cables tightened, the old house gave out a groan, and then slowly began to slide along the steel beams.
Wasn’t there an enormous risk of disaster in moving a structure so old and so fragile?
“I slept quite soundly last night, thank you,” said Edgar Dodson, the patriarch of the family that for four generations now has moved San Antonio houses. Pointing at the swarming crew members supervised by his son, Gator, and led by Quentin Henderson, he added, “These guys are doing all the work. They’re pros and they know exactly what they’re doing.”
People stopped to watch, traffic slowed, but it was over quickly. More than 125 tons of history had just moved 60 feet without so much as a cloud of dust. As I walked to my car, someone jogging by paused and asked, “What’s about to happen?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It already happened.” Months of work culminated in a matter of minutes. Now a valued old fixture in SanAntonio can be brought back to life for at least another century.
*Featured/top image: The Dodson House Moving crew gently eases the century-old Boehler House off its foundation for renovation work. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
This story was originally published on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.